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Are the Milwaukee Brewers Legit?

Brewers' SS Willy Adames; Photo via All-Pro Reels

The Milwaukee Brewers, after missing the playoffs last season, have started the season hot, going 12-5 to start the season. That is the third-best record in baseball, behind only the Tampa Bay Rays and Atlanta Braves. They are also tied for the third-best run differential at +33 and are third in team ERA. Throughout this 12-5 stint, they only lost one series, and it was to the Diamondbacks, who are also red-hot. Milwaukee won its series against the Cardinals and San Diego, both of who were playoff teams last season. Probably most impressive, the Brewers swept the Mets, shutting them out in the first two games and outscoring them in the series 26-6. In a year where the Cardinals were expected to take the division easily, the Brewers have come out swinging, showing that they look like contenders. But are they really? Is this dominance a flash in the pan or a warning to the MLB? Let’s take a closer look at the peripherals and see why the Brewers have had so much early success.

The weak link of the Brewers was thought to be the offense. However, Milwaukee has ten players with at least 10 games played, and, out of those players, only 2 have an OPS+ lower than 100, which is the league average. Those players are rookie Joey Wiemer, who is only getting consistent playing time because fellow rookie Garrett Mitchell got injured, and Christian Yelich, the former MVP whose play has been remarkably inconsistent over the past several seasons. Joey Wiemer’s offensive output is not shocking, as he is a defense-first player that resides in the 99th percentile for OAA, 91st percentile for outfielder jump, and 84th percentile for arm strength. Christian Yelich’s below-average numbers, however, could be deceiving. While he does strike out at a very high rate, he is in the top 11% in the MLB for average exit velocity, max exit velocity, and hard-hit percentage, which could imply he has been getting extremely unlucky. If Yelich can cut back on the strikeouts, he may start to see an upward trend in his stats.

However, the Brewers’ overnight offensive turnaround has involved some players overperforming. Let's look at a few of those players. After 2 below-average seasons, newly acquired Brian Anderson has been playing very well for the Brewers, sporting a .815 OPS in 18 games so far. While his defense has been poor so far, his peripherals make it seem like he may be slightly overperforming, but he will still probably finish with an OPS+ above 100.

Willy Adames, with his 132 OPS+, has probably been the best player for Milwaukee this season. Brewers fans should not be shocked when he cools off, because his peripherals highly suggest he will. Willy’s average exit velocity is only in the 19th percentile, and his xBA is in the 39th percentile. However, the Brew Crew faithful should be pleasantly surprised with Adames’ walk numbers. He already has 12 walks on the season. The most he has ever had over a full campaign is 57. Adames is a very good shortstop and will have an above-average season just like Brian Anderson, and, if he can keep up the walks, he could outperform expectations.

Finally, let’s look at another newly acquired player, William Contreras. Contreras has a .404 OBP, the 30th-best in the MLB. However, he only has an OPS of .750 and an OPS+ of 109. If you look at the top 50 players in the MLB based on OBP, William Contreras actually has the second-lowest OPS because he is not hitting for power. Of Contreras’ 15 hits, only 2 went for extra bases. This obviously is not the biggest problem in the world, but it does make you think, as he posted a slugging percentage of .506 last year. His 81st-percentile hard-hit percentage makes it seem like he should soon be due for some more power. However, his average exit velocity and max exit velocity sit at the 50th and 49th percentiles, respectively. But if William Contreras can keep on getting on base at this rate, his lack of power will not be that important. Overall, the Brewers’ offense is likely slightly overperforming right now, but they probably will not experience a severe regression.

Next let’s look at the second-best part of this Brewers’ team: their bullpen. After dealing Josh Hader last trade deadline, their closer is now Devin Williams. Williams is one of the best closers in baseball, and his peripherals back that up. He is in the 100th percentile for whiff percentage. He makes batters swing and miss more than any other pitcher in MLB. Now, to be clear, this is only in 6 innings pitched, so I should not overreact too much, but Williams is a dominant force out of the bullpen that batters should not want to face.

The other person getting save opportunities is Bryse Wilson. He has the most innings, 11, out of the bullpen for the Brewers. In those 11 innings, he has a .82 ERA and a 1.182 WHIP and has already allowed 8 hits. While the ERA is really good, the WHIP and all of his peripherals are a sign that he is going to regress eventually. The WHIP alone suggests that he keeps allowing baserunners but somehow keeps getting out of jams. The same goes for another one of their relievers, Joel Payamps. He has a 2.25 ERA but also has a 1.50 WHIP and has allowed 9 hits in only 8 innings pitched. His peripherals also do not make me hopeful that his success will continue.

Finally, let’s look at Hoby Milner, who appears to be the Brewers’ go-to lefty out of the bullpen. His 3.24 ERA is not amazing, especially for a reliever, but his .720 WHIP is promising. His ERA is inflated because of one game against the Padres. He gave up 3 runs in that outing, but those are the only runs he has allowed all season. His peripherals are nothing crazy, but they are nowhere near bad. I could see him being a very nice piece for the Brewers out of the bullpen for the rest of the season. Overall, the Brewers’ bullpen is overperforming, but, just like the offense, I do not think their regression will be significantly negative.

Finally, we have the best part of the Milwaukee Brewers: the starting rotation. The Brewers are third in team ERA and have been known for having one of the best rotations in baseball for a few years. The rotation is headlined by Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta, and their last two starters, Eric Lauer and Wade Miley, aren’t slouches. I feel confident saying this is the best overall rotation in baseball. However, they could also be overperforming, so let’s look deeper, beginning with ace Corbin Burnes. He broke out in 2020 and has since been a top 5 pitcher in the MLB. Oddly enough, he is one of the worst starters on the Brewers so far, but he is someone I would not worry about. His peripherals show that he is getting unlucky, and, with his consistency over the past 3 seasons, he is due to bounce back. He has not lost any spin on his pitches, as he still has the best fastball spin rate in the league.

Milwaukee’s number 2, Brandon Woodruff, has been injured since his start on April 7th but has an incredible 0.79 ERA through 11 innings pitched. Not shockingly, Woodruff’s peripherals back up his success, as he is elite in almost every category, most notably being in the 91st percentile in Whiff Percentage. Freddy Peralta is performing as expected with his 3.18 ERA across 17 innings. I expect him to finish somewhere between his 2021 All-Star season campaign and forgettable 2022 season, and his peripherals suggest the exact same. Eric Lauer is their 4th guy and has been the worst starter so far, racking up a 4.30 ERA in 23.0 innings pitched. His last two seasons have been pretty good, so maybe he can replicate them, but his peripherals do not suggest he will improve. Lauer does not place in the top 50% for any of the Baseball Savant metrics. If this is the worst pitcher in your rotation, though, you should be very happy.

That brings me to the 5 spot in their rotation: Wade Miley. Wade Miley has had a weird career of ups and downs, but this is one of his best starts to a season. In 18 innings pitched, Miley has a 1.50 ERA, with 3 runs allowed, 3 walks, 14 strikeouts, and a .944 WHIP. He is not getting opponents to swing and miss, as he is only in the 39th percentile for whiff percentage, but opponents are not hitting him hard, as he sits in the 90th percentile for hard-hit percentage. He also is not walking anyone, as he sits in the 84th percentile for walk percentage. He does not have a crazy pitch arsenal, but his peripherals suggest he can be at least an above-average pitcher for the season. This could end up being one of the most underrated signings of the offseason if he can continue to have just half of this success. Overall, the Brewers’ rotation is likely somehow slightly underperforming, mainly due to Corbin Burnes's rough start. As he gets better, the rotation will as well.

The Brewers are a very underrated team. Their hot start is not a coincidence. Obviously, teams go through hot and cold streaks, but everything about the advanced stats of these players suggests that the Brew Crew can keep on winning and maybe take the NL Central crown. The Brewers are a dark horse to be one of the best teams this season, led by an incredible starting rotation supported by a solid bullpen and a surprisingly effective offense.


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